A federal appeals court yesterday struck from the record the courtroom speech in which a judge excoriated the A. H. Robins Co. and three top officers for corporate, personal and professional misconduct.
The speech by Miles W. Lord, Minnesota's chief U.S. District judge, had attacked the Richmond firm and the officials for failing to recall the Dalkon Shield and for fighting thousands of lawsuits blaming the birth control device for grave infections and other injuries.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said that Lord violated constitutional due process of law when he reprimanded chief executive officer E. Claiborne Robins, senior vice president Carl D. Lunsford, and vice president and general counsel William A. Forrest Jr.
The reprimand was "a governmental attack on their good name, reputation, honor, and community standing," three judges said in a unanimous opinion.
Noting that the officers were not parties to lawsuits pending before Lord and had not been given adequate notice of what he was about to do, the opinion said that the officials were victims of "intimidation" that runs counter to "fundamental fairness."
A company spokesman said "we are satisfied that justice has been done."
Lord had summoned the executives to appear before him in Minneapolis last Feb. 29, after counsel for plaintiffs and the drug maker had agreed on a settlement in some Shield cases. Lord approved the agreement although, the appeals court held, he had "no authority to approve or disapprove" it.
He called the shield -- sold in the United States in the 3 1/2-year period ended in mid-1974 -- an instrument of "death, mutilation and disease," and pleaded with the executives to seek its removal from all women who may still be wearing it.
On Monday, the company announced a removal program that will cost $4 million for advertising and more to reimburse wearers for medical examinations and device retrievals. Related story, Page G6
The appeals court emphasized that it was not evaluating the truth of any allegations. Lord said yesterday that the company "never seriously contested the truth of my remarks."
Lord said he owes "between $70,000 and $100,000" to lawyers who defended him from Robins' charges of misconduct, which he called an "unwarranted intrusion into my personal life." He added, "I have no idea how I will pay." Lord said he thought the case might intimidate other judges and prevent them from speaking out in similar situations.
The appeals court case began 55 days after the reprimand by Lord, when former U.S. attorney general Griffin B. Bell and the three officers signed complaint forms alleging that Lord's statement violated a 1980 judicial misconduct and disability law aimed at judges with problems such as alcoholism and senility.
At a July hearing, Ramsey Clark -- also a former attorney general -- argued for Lord that Robins wrongly sought to discipline the judge using the 1980 law rather than the normal appeals process. The complaints made "serious deceptive statements," particularly one saying that Lord had been preparing the speech "for 'months.' "
Robins had based its charge that Lord's remarks had been prepared for months on the same statement that Clark said disproved that charge. Lord had prefaced his castigation of the company and its officials by saying: "Mr. Robins, Mr. Forrest, and Dr. Lunsford, after months of reflection, cogitation and no small amount of prayer, I have concluded it perfectly appropriate to make to you this statement."
Robins has had an appeal pending in the Eighth Circuit since March 30, and Clark argued that the complaints belonged in the appellate process.